Voyages and Adventures of Magellan - George Towle

The Mutiny

Having taken a long rest from his Atlantic voyage, and provided his ships with all things necessary, Magellan again set sail, skirting the South American coast, and keeping a keen lookout for any inlet that might betoken a passage around the continent. He was resolved to search the coast narrowly, so that no such passage, if it existed, should escape him; and he therefore put in wherever a bay or river mouth appeared. After sailing for some days amid a warm and equable temperature, the fleet came to a wide inlet, which proved to be the mouth of a large river, some fifty miles wide where if entered the sea. This was what we now call the River de la Plata, upon whose banks stand, not far from the mouth, the flourishing cities of Buenos Ayres and Monte Video.

The ships readily anchored in the river mouth, and once more the adventurers landed upon the unfamiliar coast. Scarcely had they done so, before they perceived that they were in the midst of a very different race from that they had encountered at their first landing-place. These savages were outright cannibals, and made daily meals upon their captured enemies. They were, moreover, exceedingly tall, strongly-built men, who seemed to the Spaniards no less than giants.

One of these men, evidently a chief, taller even than his companions, went fearlessly on board the flagship; but while he was there, the other natives took everything they could carry from their huts, and hurried away over the hills. Magellan ordered a hundred of his men to land and pursue them; but the natives were so agile, and took such enormous strides, that the pursuit was in vain.

On the pretty islands that studded the bay Magellan found some precious stones, which he took good care to store away, at the same time resolving on his return to search for more.

Setting sail again, the ships presently came to two islands, just off the coast, where the crews went ashore, to procure some wild fowl which they saw on the strand. They were much astonished at some black geese they found, with beaks like crows, and which could not fly. They also succeeded in capturing many seals, which were not less strange to them, in color and shape, than the geese. During their stay at these islands, the ships were nearly destroyed by a mighty storm that swept over them; but they were stout and well-manned, and succeeded in weathering it.

After passing the Gulf of St. Mathias, and the bay of St. George, they reached a point which from the multitude of geese seen on the shore, Magellan named Goose Harbor." Nowhere, as yet, had the gallant Admiral found a passage to the Pacific; but his courage and hopefulness were unabated, and he pressed vigorously on to the goal he was confident that, sooner or later, he should reach. He had now at least gone further south than any previous expedition had sailed; he was nearer the Antarctic pole than any European had been; and there was every reason for him to look forward cheerily to the accomplishment of the great end he had in view.

The southern winter, cold and blustering, had fairly set in, when one morning Magellan espied a large inviting bay, which seemed well sheltered from the bleak winds, and the shores of which had the appearance of affording a good supply of wood and water. Of these the ships were now sadly in want, for little had been found at Goose Harbor, their last stopping-place. Moreover, the ships needed many repairs; nor could Magellan hope to pursue his voyage successfully for some months to come. The crews were grumbling at hardships they were forced to suffer; and more than one of Magellan's captains betrayed open signs of discontent.

The admiral therefore deemed it best to put in at the pleasant-looking bay, and if it proved as comfortable as it looked, to stay there until fairer winds blew, and the return of spring brought a softer temperature.

The ships anchored in the bay, which Magellan, with the piety of his age and bringing-up, named St. Julian. It turned out an easy matter to land upon the sloping and still smiling shore, for winter was but fairly begun; and the crews set to work to make themselves as snug as possible.

Scarcely, however, had the fleet reached what seemed so secure a haven for their winter sojourn when an event occurred which at first threatened, not only the success of the expedition, but the very lives of Magellan and his friends.

Of the captains commanding the ships in Magellan's fleet, three were Spaniards—Juan de Cartagena, Gaspar de Quesada, and Louis de Mendoza. Cartagena and Mendoza had been jealous, from the first, of the preference given by their king to Magellan, a Portuguese and a stranger, in putting him at the head of the expedition; and throughout the voyage had in various ways betrayed their ill-temper and discontent. Of the two, Juan de Cartagena, who was the second officer of the fleet, and commanded the San Antonio, nourished the fiercest hatred of Magellan. He was a large, dark-featured man, with a sour, malignant countenance, and he cherished the fixed idea that he, and not Magellan, should have been Admiral. From the first, he resolved on the earliest opportunity to raise the standard of revolt.

Finding that Mendoza shared his ill-will towards Magellan, and was ready to enter into a plot against him, Cartagena held frequent conferences with Mendoza, when Magellan was engaged in other matters. While scouring the country around St. Julian, in the early days of their stay there, the treacherous captains found many occasions to meet and mature their project. They felt sure of being able to secure the assistance of the sailors under their commands; for most of these were Spaniards like themselves, imbued with a fierce jealousy of the Portuguese; and besides, the sailors had become very much discontented by their many hardships, and by the long delays in the voyage.

It was not long before the plot was ripe for execution. Cartagena and Mendoza revealed it to the Spanish sailors on their ships, who readily agreed to aid in carrying it out. The first object was to secure Quesada, the captain of the Conception, who, though a Spaniard, was suspected of being a staunch friend to Magellan. His ship lay next to the San Antonio, which Cartagena commanded. Cartagena now resolved to man one of his boats with twenty men, fully armed, and to take advantage of a dark night to board the Conception, seize Quesada, engage his sailors to take part in the mutiny, and with this accession of force to assault the flagship, the Trinidad, itself. Magellan was then to be seized and killed on the spot; the other ship, the Santiago, commanded by Magellan's cousin Serrano, was in like manner to be seized, and Cartagena would then assume command of the fleet.

One black night, therefore, Cartagena executed his project to seize Quesada. This he succeeded, with little difficulty, in doing; but before he could pursue his plan further, Magellan got wind of what was going on. Early the next morning, he sent a boat to the two revolted ships, with the message that they should be beached and careened. When the boat arrived alongside the San Antonio, the sailors found the guns of the ship pointed at them; and one of the lieutenants shouted out harshly, and demanded to know what they wanted.

"The Admiral commands you to beach and careen your ship," was the reply. "We obey no orders," retorted the lieutenant, "but those of Juan de Cartagena, the true Admiral of the fleet."

The sailors rowed back in all haste to Magellan's ship. He now saw that there was open mutiny against him, and that it was necessary to take prompt and stern measures to repress it. Calling Fernandes, his chief constable, he told him to man the boat, proceed without delay to Mendoza's ship, and, if possible, take him prisoner. Six well-armed, stalwart men accompanied Fernandes on this hazardous venture. When the boat came alongside the Victoria, Mendoza's ship, Fernandes called to Mendoza, and asked permission to board the ship. But this the captain refused to allow him to do.

"Surely," replied Fernandes, "you are not afraid of one man, bringing a letter to you."

Mendoza consulted a moment with his officers, and then bade Fernandes come on board.

No sooner had the constable leaped upon the deck, than he grasped Mendoza tightly in his arms, crying, "In the name of the king you are arrested!"

Before Mendoza's men could recover from their surprise, Fernandes's companions had rushed upon the deck with their swords drawn. They fell upon those who showed signs of resisting them; and soon several corpses lay weltering in their blood on the deck. In a few minutes, the brave fellows had subdued all resistance, and were in complete possession of the ship. Fernandes still held the unfortunate captain by the throat. Fiercely addressing him, at the same time shaking the breath out of him, the constable cried:

"You traitor, you shall die!"

Throwing Mendoza on the deck, he held him down with his knees, and drawing a huge dagger from his belt, plunged it deep into Mendoza's throat. The captain writhed in anguish, and in another moment lay stark dead upon his deck.

Magellan observed the success of Fernandes's stratagem from the deck of the flagship. He now ordered the Trinidad  to drop down alongside the Victoria;" he put his men under arms, and had his cannon loaded and aimed; and was soon able to pass from one deck to the other: He found that Fernandes and his men had already secured and bound the rebellious sailors; and having made a strict but rapid inquiry into the mutiny, he commanded six of the chief offenders to be brought out and hung, without mercy, at the yard-arms. Then he caused Mendoza's body to be hoisted by the feet on one of the masts, so that it might be distinctly seen by the crews on the other ships.

It remained to overcome the chief conspirator, who, with a strong force, held out on the San Antonio." Magellan knew that he was still surrounded by Spaniards, who might be his enemies; and suspected that Cartagena's force might be too strong for him, if he assailed him directly. He therefore resorted to a shrewd stratagem.

Calling aside one of the sailors, upon whom, though he was a Spaniard, Magellan knew he could rely, he told him to take a boat, and row in all haste to the San Antonio, as if he were escaping; and when he reached the ship, to beg to be taken on board as a fugitive.

The sailor promptly undertook the task; shot out from the Victoria  in a skiff, and was soon seen by Magellan clambering up the side of the San Antonio." When night came on, the sailor quietly cut the cables, so that the San Antonio  drifted directly down upon the Victoria." As soon as it floated alongside, Magellan, shouted out, "Treason, treason!" leaped on board with his men, fiercely attacked Cartagena and the mutineers, and in a short time had made prisoners of all who were not killed in the fray.

The crew thus quelled, Magellan hastened to set free Quesada and Mesquita, whom Cartagena had loaded with irons, and shut up in his hold. To his brother-in-law, Edward Barbosa, who had come with him, he confided the command of the Victoria;" while he made his faithful friend, Mesquita, captain of the San Antonio."

One ship, the Conception, (the captain of which was Quesada), still remained in rebellion; but this, on seeing the others in the hands of Magellan, surrendered at discretion without a struggle. Thus the gallant Admiral, by boldly attacking his enemies as soon as he discovered their plot against him, achieved a prompt and complete victory.

Magellan was not naturally stern or relentless. He was never known to be guilty of an act of wanton cruelty. But he now saw that self-preservation, as well as the success of the expedition, demanded that his prisoners, especially the ring-leaders in the mutiny, should be treated with the greatest severity. The punishment for mutiny in his days, as it is now, was death. To allow Cartagena and his confederates to live, would be to encourage a repetition of the revolt.

Calling the rebellious captain before him, therefore, on the deck of the Victoria, Magellan coldly addressed him as follows:

"Juan de Cartagena, you have been guilty of an unpardonable crime. You have never had any provocation from me, to seek my life. My chief fault in your eyes is that I am a Portuguese, and not a Spaniard; but you well know that the sovereign of Spain hath entrusted me with the command of this fleet, and hath given me all power to direct its course. You have defied and rebelled against the king, in assuming to declare yourself its commander; and you have sought to gain this by bloodshed and murder. Cartagena, you deserve no pity. Prepare to die. You are to be shot and quartered, and your body shall be fixed to a stake, set up on this strange shore."

Cartagena hung his head in sullen silence, turning deadly pale, and clenching his hands, when his doom was pronounced. Magellan turned to two soldiers, and waved his hand. The miserable captain was seized and dragged to the forward part of the deck; and presently fell, shot through the heart.

Both his body and that of Mendoza were then quartered, and, as the admiral had directed, set upon stakes, on the shore.

The rest of the mutineers were kept in irons, except at such times as the ships needed pumping, when they were brought out, and, under guard, were set to the pumps.

Magellan, however, was not disposed to be too severe with the misguided wretches, who had been led into their crime by their captains. Soon after he released several of them, and put them on shore; telling them to explore the coast southward, to ascend any headland they might reach, and see if they could not espy the ocean on the other side. The mutineers, only too glad to recover their liberty, readily promised to obey his orders; and started off down the shore with brisk and lusty strides.

They remained away several days; and then returned, footsore and weary, to tell Magellan that they had not succeeded in making the desired discovery.

Order and submission were now restored throughout the fleet. The Spaniards, quite awed by the terrible fate of Cartagena and Mendoza, no longer thought of defying Magellan's authority; and the Portuguese ceased to harbor any ill-will against their mutinous comrades. Only one of the ships, the Conception, was now under the command of a Spaniard; this was Quesada, whom Magellan fully trusted as his friend.